At least 100 people got a little early morning sweat while observing a Centralia and national tradition.
They were there for the annual Ringing of the Bells, when Centralia-area residents participate in a tradition begun in 1963. United States President John F. Kennedy proclaimed July 4 to be “National Bell Ringing Day” through U.S. Congressional Resolution Number 25, where all across the nation Americans would ring bells to celebrate freedom and patriotism.
Besides the reading of a proclamation by Centralia Mayor Chris Cox and local songstress Morgan Ross, who sang the National Anthem, the event’s keynote speaker was Melissa Pulkrabek, educator, CHS class of 2001 and U.S. Marine.
Pulkrabek told the Centralia Fireside Guard her family tree is full of members who served their country.
However, “Both my grandpas, great grandpas, all my great uncles, uncles, my dad and my brother were in the military…I am the only one who is a Marine, and female,” they were all Army, Navy, or Air force.
Warming up her speech, Pulkrabek, a fifth and sixth-grade math and science teacher with the Southern Boone School District, elaborated a bit on how she came to be a Marine and service in general.
“I grew up in Centralia, and about two weeks after high school graduation I shipped off to boot-camp, and spent 8 years in the Marine Corps. For those of you who do know me, most would have probably not expected that I would even be in the military, and for that skipped school the day of the ASVAB for crying out loud! Long story short, I decided to enlist, ticked off an Army recruiter, and pledged myself to the Marines May of 2001. Before this, I knew what it meant to serve the country, and that the 4th honors our Independence as a country, but it wasn’t until I was fully thrown into service that I understood what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was all about. September 11, 2001 was the start of everything, an epiphany of what our forefathers were talking about. Protecting our country, and freedom. America has it, but deeper into war, I realized, we all do not have this opportunity. Freedom and heroism are two things that go hand in hand with America on Independence day.”
As the sun filtered through the trees at the City Square Park, Pulkrabek discussed freedom. It is not as simple as some people think, she said, and people often forget how freedom in the U.S.A., compares with other places.
“Freedom seems so simple,” she said. “We as Americans have the right to do whatever we want, essentially. Things as simple as choosing what to wear, who you can or don’t talk to, or one’s education. We take these things for granted on a daily basis. Growing up, some of us would have thought education was prison, some days, I thought that, but I never imagined that there were girls or women out there that dreamed of going to school, and that they couldn’t because they were born in Afghanistan. I cannot fathom growing up the way that some of these women did, but some of the bravery that these women displayed just completely blows my mind. Their bravery was as heroic as my fellow active duty service-members and veterans. During the Afghanistan war, there were units of Afghan women who aided our Special forces to drive out the Taliban, risking not only their lives, but their whole family, male or female. From 2011 to the fall of Kabul, the Female Tactical Platoon helped our military carry out dangerous jobs, jobs many think only the men could do, and saved a lot of our American guys. Some of these women were fortunate enough to never know what a full Taliban rule was like, but as we all know now, they know exactly what it is like for a woman under Taliban rule. 39 women and their families from this platoon made it to the United States to be free, but when I say free, they go by different names out of fear of Taliban retaliation. One of my friends, and another hero of mine, Sky, died fighting for the belief that Afghan women, or all Afghan people deserve to be free. To go to school. To speak their mind just like we Americans can do every, single, day.”
She explained why she was discussing the situation faced by Afghani women in an Independence Day speech in Centralia Missouri.
“I think that it is important that we do talk about what it is like in other countries, because it allows us to see how good we have it in America. The 4th of July is the celebration of our country being free from tyranny, and I believe that everyone before me that strapped on boots, and all that strap them on at this very moment, believe that freedom is worth fighting for. We as Americans can thank everyone who has ever stood up and defended this country for our freedoms, and be thankful that we are free.”
She advised her audience to consider what is happening across the world, when they hear somebody complain about America’s freedoms.
“Think about those women left in Afghanistan or other countries that do not have freedom. We as Americans do not realize how good we have it, and sometimes it makes us turn on each other, fellow Americans. So much so, we have lost the ability to disagree with each other without it getting ugly…like losing friendships and family members because we cannot agree to disagree and move on. The thing about America that we tend to forget is that everyone is free to believe what they want, and we have the right to disagree, but with our differences, we have to listen to each other. I think about those women left in Afghanistan or other countries that do not have freedom. We as Americans do not realize how good we have it, and sometimes it makes us turn on
each other, fellow Americans. So much so, we have lost the ability to disagree with each other without it getting ugly…like losing friendships and family members because we cannot agree to disagree and move on. The thing about America that we tend to forget is that everyone is free to believe what they want, and we have the right to disagree, but with our differences, we have to listen to each other.”
It is a skill, we as Americans must regain, Pulkrabek said.
“We need to find that again. We cannot keep going down a path that divides us into a point of no return. So when you find yourself standing up for what you believe in, I applaud that, but try not to take your friends down to a point where you are no longer friends… Agree to disagree…it has a nice ring to it! And for goodness sakes, could we not post it on social media?! That place is a nightmare to have a friendly chat!”
She concluded by asking the audience to remember the need for unity, the value and meaning of their freedoms, and to love and respect our country.
“I want to remind everyone of a few things. First, Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We as Americans need to know that these words are so true, and I just got off my soapbox about that one, so I am going to move to my second thing.
We are free, and we are fortunate for everyone who has made sure that we can live this way.
Freedom is America. Third, one thing I didn’t touch on, but I did want to throw it in there…teach our children to respect this country, the men and women who paved our way, and how to love and respect. I know everyone knows that our children are our future!”
She finished with a movie quote and request. “’Today we celebrate our Independence Day!’ So, let us do just that. Love you all, and Happy 4th of July, everyone!”